GONZALES — Outgoing Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez says he plans to take off most of December.
Heading into the end of his fourth and final term as Ascension’s top executive, Martinez says he has some accrued vacation time to dispense with after years in parish government.
But he may have a few ribbon-cuttings to squeeze into his vacation schedule.
For the last six to eight months, Martinez’s administration has been on a hard push to wrap up about $20.5 million in public building and facility projects conceived, funded and begun during his two most recent terms in office.
While some projects are still underway, others are already completed or are just about finished. The renovations and expansion of the Ascension Council on Aging building in Gonzales and the Ascension Counseling Center are done. Also, completed or nearly completed is the construction of the Sorrento Community Center, the west Ascension public works building and a Donaldsonville splash park.
Most are being paid for from parish funds, but some, like a $5.7 million renovation of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center 4-H building and the $660,000 Sorrento center are being paid for with federal recovery grants stemming from Hurricane Gustav or from other federal or state sources.
A $3.1 million soccer field project at Lamar-Dixon is underway, but it won’t be completed until after Martinez is out of office.
Other big projects are also moving along but not done, including the $5.9 million purchase of Peoples Water Service Co. in Donaldsonville, and the planned construction of a $6.5 million second access road to Lamar-Dixon.
“I’ve been busy,” Martinez said in a recent interview. “I’m making sure the people get what they paid for.”
Probably the crown jewel of all those projects, a $6.9 million parish administrative complex, was accepted by the Parish Council Thursday as substantially complete.
A procedural step in government public works administration, “substantially complete” means a new building can be occupied, is down to the final details and is close to being paid off.
Located on East Worthey Road, roughly catty-corner from the Parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales, the new contemporary-style parish government complex sits along a lake that once framed East Ascension Hospital, which was demolished in 2014.
The parish used a $5 million surplus in the defunct public hospital’s accounts, plus sales tax revenue that had been set aside for industrial construction rebates but never used, to pay for the 33,500-square-foot administrative building.
Construction will cost nearly $6.6 million, but the building required emergency backup generators, which were bid separately and are needed, in part, for the parish’s computer servers, pushing the total construction cost to about $6.9 million.
Some critics questioned the need for the building at a time when the parish is struggling to pay for other infrastructure, but Martinez claimed the complex was long overdue for the fast-growing parish.
The new complex will allow the parish to open up its old administrative space to the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The parish now leases cramped office space to District Attorney Ricky Babin.
The new complex is about a month behind early projections, but Martinez and some staff have already moved in. Ceremonies commemorating the new building are planned for Dec. 17.
The 4-H building at Lamar-Dixon, once a warehouse where BP stored extra equipment to contain leaking oil during the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is being transformed under a $5.7 million project. When finished, the building will have heating, air conditioning, a kitchen, dressing rooms, offices and 62,500 square feet of meeting space.
The building is part of Martinez’s long-term vision to use Lamar-Dixon for convention-type events and generate revenue for the parish-owned facility.
On Friday, contractors were painting new interior ceiling insulation and gluing insulation coverings onto the building’s new cooling system.
The building also was one of several on Lamar-Dixon’s 247 acres to have its exterior roof hardened against storms under another $4.2 million federal grant, Martinez said. He said he has given the contractor until Dec. 20 to finish the renovations.
Meanwhile, his administration plans a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the Donaldsonville spray park and the Department of Public Works west building Dec. 3.
Martinez also hopes to start a few new projects before he leaves office, including putting both phases of the Lamar-Dixon connector road out to bid.
The first section will tie La. 44 to South St. Landry Avenue, the current access road to Lamar-Dixon, which is being financed by a $5.2 million state appropriation. The second section will tie South St. Landry to Ashland Road and open up a route for workers in the parish’s chemical corridor.
“We’re just about ready,” Martinez said.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.